Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

David Oupicky


Combination drug and gene therapy shows promise in cancer treatment. However, the success of such strategy requires careful selection of the therapeutic agents, as well as development of efficient delivery vectors. BENSpm (N1, N11-bisethylnorspermine), a polyamine analogue targeting the intracellular polyamine pathway, draws our special attention because of the following reasons: (1) polyamine pathway is frequently dysregulated in cancer; (2) BENSpm exhibits multiple functions to interfere with the polyamine pathway, such as to up-regulate polyamine metabolism enzymes and down-regulate polyamine biosynthesis enzymes. Therefore BENSpm depletes all natural polyamines and leads to apoptosis and cell growth inhibition in a wide range of cancers; (3) preclinical studies proved that BENSpm can act synergistically with various chemotherapy agents, making it a promising candidate in combination therapy; (4) multiple positive charges in BENSpm enable it as a suitable building block for cationic polymers, which can be further applied to gene delivery.

In this dissertation, our goal was to design dual-function delivery vector based on BENSpm that can function as a gene delivery vector and, after intracellular degradation, as an active anticancer agent targeting dysregulated polyamine metabolism. We first demonstrated strong synergism between BENSpm and a potential therapeutic gene product TRAIL. Strong synergism was obtained in both estrogen-dependent MCF-7 breast cancer cells and triple-negative MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Significant dose reduction of TRAIL in combination with BENSpm in MDA-MB-231 cells, together with the fact that BENSpm rendered MCF-7 cells more sensitive to TRAIL treatment verified our rationale of designing BENSpm-based delivery platform. This was expected to be beneficial for overcoming drug resistance in chemotherapy, as well as boosting the therapeutic effect of therapeutic genes.

We first designed a lipid-based BENSpm dual vector (Lipo-SS-BEN) capable of intracellular release of BENSpm using thiolytically sensitive dithiobenzyl carbamate linker. Similar activity on SSAT enzyme induction by Lipo-SS-BEN compared with BENSpm free drug verified the success of this prodrug design. Biodegradability of Lipo-SS-BEN contributed to decreased toxicity compared with nondegradable control LipoBEN. However, decreased enhancement of TRAIL activity was observed for Lipo-SS-BEN when compared with BENSpm, indicating that the lipid-related toxicity diminished the synergism. In addition, compared with LipoBEN and DOTAP, decreased transfection efficiency of Lipo-SS-BEN demonstrated instability of Lipo-SS-BEN in extracellular environment.

In order to design a dual delivery vector with reduced vector toxicity and improved linker stability, we employed dendritic polyglycerol (PG) as a safe carrier backbone, onto which BENSpm was conjugated through carbamate linkage (PG-BEN). Polymers with norspermine (PG-Nor) shell and amine-terminated PG (PG-NH2) were synthesized as controls. The BENSpm dual vector PG-BEN demonstrated superior gene delivery function, and showed decreased toxicity compared with the control polymers. However, compared with BENSpm, which depleted all natural polyamines, PG-BEN only down-regulated intracellular putrescine levels. In addition, no free BENSpm was detected in PG-BEN treated cells. These results suggested that in order to take full advantage of BENSpm anticancer activity, alternative linker chemistry needs to be further explored.

We then incorporated bis(2-hydroxyethyl) disulfide as a self-immolative linker to synthesize polymer prodrugs of BENSpm (DSS-BEN). The proposed mechanism of BENSpm release from DSS-BEN contains two steps: disulfide bond is first cleaved in the reducing intracellular space, then the intermediate further undergoes slow intramolecular cyclization to release free BENSpm. Cell line-dependent BENSpm release after DSS-BEN treatment was observed using HPLC analysis, demonstrating the success of our linker strategy. DSS-BEN showed comparable transfection efficiency as polyethylenimine and showed decreased toxicity in several cell lines compared with the nondegradable control DCC-BEN. We further demonstrated that DSS-BEN could act synergistically with several therapeutic agents, making it a promising delivery platform for combination therapy in cancer. In all, we have successfully developed a dual delivery vector based on BENSpm, which fulfills its function as a gene delivery vector as well as a prodrug of BENSpm, and possesses synergistic potential to augment the effect of the co-delivered agents.